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Six subpostmaster convictions referred for appeal in Scotland

Six former subpostmasters in Scotland will have appeals against criminal convictions heard after being referred by Scotland’s Criminal Cases Review Commission

Scotland’s Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) has referred six cases of potential wrongful convictions of subpostmasters, based on computer evidence, to the High Court of Justiciary.

The appeals against the convictions of former subpostmasters Aleid Kloosterhuis,William Quarm, Susan Sinclair, Colin Smith, Judith Smith and Robert Thomson will now be heard in the appeal court of Scotland.

The former subpostmasters were all prosecuted by the Post Office for unexplained shortfalls in their branch accounts, which could have been caused by computer errors, according to a ruling in the High Court in England. 

Aleid Kloosterhuis pled guilty in 2012, at Campbeltown Sheriff Court, to a charge of embezzlement and was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment.  At Lochmaddy Sheriff Court in 2010, William Quarm pled guilty to of embezzlement and had to serve 150 hours of unpaid work.  Susan Sinclair was convicted of one charge of embezzlement in 2004, after a trial at Peterhead Sheriff Court she was sentenced her to 180 hours’ community service.

In 2013, Colin Smith pled guilty, at Dunfermline Sheriff Court, to one embezzlement and was required to serve 180 hours of unpaid work and Judith Smith pled guilty in 2009, at Selkirk Sheriff Court, to one charge of fraud and the court admonished her. Robert Thomson pled guilty in 2006, at Alloa Sheriff Court, to one charge of embezzlement and the court ordered 180 hours of community service and a compensation £5000.

SCCRC chairman Bill Matthews said: “The cases we have referred today to the High Court are exceptional in the Commission’s caseload as each one is founded upon the operation of the Post Office’s computer system, Horizon, and the conduct of the Post Office. We have issued detailed statements of reasons which address all of the relevant grounds. It is for the High Court to decide whether to quash the convictions of the individuals concerned.”

Computer Weekly first reported on the problems with the Fujitsu-supplied Horizon system in 2009 when it made public the stories of a group of subpostmasters whose lives were ruined when they were blamed for accounting shortfalls caused by computer errors (see timeline of Computer Weekly articles below).

Some were sent to prison, many were heavily fined, large numbers were made bankrupt and families were ruined. It has been described as the biggest miscarriage of justice in UK legal history. A total of 736 former subpostmasters were prosecuted in England, based on evidence from the Horizon computer system used in Post Office branches. Until the High Court judgment in 2019, the Post Office had denied that unexplained shortfalls could be caused by Horizon errors.

The CCRC began reviewing English cases in 2015 and the first convictions to be overturned came in  December 2020In England, more than 80 former subpostmasters have so far had their criminal convictions overturned, and more are expected. 

In September 2020, Following a large number of cases referred for appeal by England’s CCRC, the SCCRC took what it described as an “unusual step” and wrote to more than 70 people with potential wrongful convictions. It began reviewing the first set of cases in March 2021.

Scotland has a separate legal system and the SCCRC is traditionally about 10% of the size of the CCRC in England in terms of cases.

SCCRC CEO Michael Walker said: “These cases posed significant challenges for the Commission. Similar cases have been litigated in England and Wales, and lengthy decisions and voluminous papers exist in relation to those court actions. We were required to consider that information and to obtain materials relevant to the six cases that we are referring today.

“Our role in these six cases now ends – it is for the Appeal Court to decide whether any miscarriages of justice occurred.”

The SCCRC said it has another five potential appeals under "active review."

Read all Computer Weekly’s articles about the scandal since 2009

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